Communicating the Sustainable Development Goals to the public: why it’s important and how to do it

A European Commission survey in 2013 revealed that only 6% of EU respondents and 4% of UK respondents, had heard of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and had an idea of what they were. The MDGs, a set of goals agreed by all of the world’s countries to meet the needs of the world’s poorest, which range from halving extreme poverty rates to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education, have had mixed results. Had there been more global engagement and awareness, it is not implausible that the goals could have had more impact, been higher on the priority list of public and private institutions, or just been generally more prominent in the global landscape.

Qiciao and Qixi, a pair of giant panda twins, inspect a flag to represent Goal 7, Affordable and Clean Energy, raised at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in China, to support the UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development. Credit: Mr. Yuan Tao and Ms. Yan Lu
Qiciao and Qixi, a pair of giant panda twins, inspect a flag to represent Goal 7, Affordable and Clean Energy, raised at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in China, to support the UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development. Credit: Mr. Yuan Tao and Ms. Yan Lu

With the MDGs set to expire on 31 December 2015, world leaders convened at the United Nations headquarters to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on 25 September 2015. These 17 goals with a 2030 deadline are even more ambitious than the MDGs, with the inclusion of grand statements such as “to end poverty in all its forms everywhere”. However, like the MDGs, I do truly believe that the world is and will be better off with them.

Why it’s important

Project Everyone, the masterminds behind the successful ‘Global Goals’ SDG awareness raising campaign, put it best when explaining why it is so critical to engage everyone, everywhere:

“In September 2015, the United Nations are launching global goals, a series of ambitious targets to end extreme poverty and tackle climate change for everyone by 2030. If the goals are met, they ensure the health, safety and future of the planet for everyone on it. And their best chance of being met is if everyone on the planet is aware of them.

The more famous these global goals are, and the more widely they are understood by everyone – the more politicians will take them seriously, finance them properly, refer to them frequently and make them work.

Arming everyone with the knowledge of the global goals means that we are able to hold leaders accountable for the future of our planet. It’s the most important long term plan we have for our survival. The United Nation’s success is our success; its failure is our failure. And for the future of everyone on our planet, failure cannot be an option.”

How to do it

The ‘Global Goals’ campaign has been impressive, with celebrities coming out of the woodwork to support them, advertisements in cinemas worldwide, radio programmes and a festival. In fact, Project Everyone claim that information on the goals reached 3 billion people in just 7 days after their adoption. So, how can we ensure that we do not lose momentum and garner true global engagement with the SGDs? Will Tucker, a communications consultant writing for The Guardian, has 4 tips. They are:

  1. Encourage empathy, not pity. Tucker states: “…achieving gender equality and delivering 169 SDG targets will require global collaboration, involving governments, business and the general public. Until people start empathising rather than pitying people across country and continental boarders, these intractable problems will remain.”
  2. Think about the messenger: “The announcement of a new world plan to tackle poverty is an important moment. Charity CEOs attending negotiations in New York are not necessarily the best people to communicate that,” says Tucker.
  3. Don’t be afraid to talk about corruption: Tucker notes that poverty in the development context is often associated with corruption. In fact, he refers to a survey in which “67% of the British public think that government corruption makes donating to reduce poverty “pointless” ”. To counter this, “it is best to engage in discussion and share examples of how organisations are tackling the problem,” he says.
  4. Keep it real: “The first SDG, “to end poverty in all its forms everywhere”, is going to prompt accusations of over-ambition and lack of realism,” says Tucker. With this in mind, it is essential to “give tangible examples of change: what’s happening in one village, for example, not vague promises of billions invested in health in a vaguely defined Africa.”

Read the full article here. Find out more about the Global Goals campaign or the SDG targets.

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